MICHILIMACKINAC! that gem of the Lakes! How bright and beautiful it looked as we walked abroad on the following morning! The rain had passed away, but had left all things glittering in the light of the sun as it rose up over the waters of Lake Huron, far away to the east. Before us was the lovely bay, scarcely yet tranquil after the storm, but dotted with canoes and the boats of the fishermen already getting but their nets for the trout and whitefish, those treasures of the deep. Along the beach were scattered the wigwams or lodges of the Ottawas who had come to the island to trade. The inmates came forth to gaze upon us. A shout of welcome was sent forth, as they recognized Shaw-nee-aw-kee, who, from a seven years' residence among them, was well-known to each individual.
A shake of the hand, and an emphatic "Bon-jour -- bon-jour," is the customary salutation between the Indian and the white man.
"Do the Indians speak French?" I inquired of my husband. "No; this is a fashion they have learned of the French traders during many years of intercourse." Not less hearty was the greeting of each Canadian engagé, as he trotted forward to pay his respects to "Monsieur John," and to utter a long string of felicitations, in a most incomprehensible patois. I was forced to take for granted all the good wishes showered upon "Madame John," of which I could comprehend nothing but the hope that I should be happy and contented in my "vie sauvage."
The object of our early walk was to visit the Mission-house and school which had been some few years previously established at this place, by the Presbyterian Board of Missions. It was an object of especial interest to Mr. and Mrs. Stuart, and its flourishing condition at this period, and the prospects of extensive future usefulness it held out, might well gladden their philanthropic hearts. They had lived many years on the island, and had witnessed its transformation, through God's blessing on Christian efforts, from a worldly, dissipated community to one of which it might almost be said, "Religion was every man's business." This mission establishment was the beloved child and the common centre of interest of the few Protestant families clustered around it. Through the zeal and good management of Mr. and Mrs. Ferry, and the fostering encouragement of the congregation, the school was in great repute, and it was pleasant to observe the effect of mental and religious culture in subduing the mischievous, tricky propensities of the half-breed, and rousing the stolid apathy of the genuine Indian.
These were the palmy days of Mackinac. As the head-quarters of the American Fur Company, and the entrepôt of the whole North-West, all the trade in supplies and goods on the one hand, and in furs and products of the Indian country on the other, was in the hands of the parent establishment or its numerous outposts scattered along Lakes Superior and Michigan, the Mississippi, or through still more distant regions.
Probably few are ignorant of the fact, that all the Indian tribes, with the exception of the Miamis and the Wyandots, had, since the transfer of the old French possessions to the British Crown, maintained a firm alliance with the latter. The independence achieved by the United States did not alter the policy of the natives, nor did our Government succeed in winning or purchasing their friendship. Great Britain, it is true, bid high to retain them. Every year the leading men of the Chippewas, Ottawas, Pottowattamies, Menomonees, Winnebagoes, Sauks and Foxes, and even still more remote tribes, journeyed from their distant homes to Fort Malden in Upper Canada, to receive their annual amount of presents from their Great Father across the water. It was a master-policy thus to keep them in pay, and had enabled those who practised it to do fearful execution through the aid of such allies in the last war between the two countries.
The presents they thus received were of considerable value, consisting of blankets, broadcloths or strouding, calicoes, guns, kettles, traps, silver-works (comprising arm-bands, bracelets, brooches, and ear-bobs), looking-glasses, combs, and various other trinkets distributed with no niggardly hand.
The magazines and store-houses of the Fur Company were the resort of all the upper tribes for the sale of their commodities, and the purchase of all such articles as they had need of; including those above enumerated, and also ammunition, which, as well as money and liquor, their British friends very commendably omitted to furnish them.
Besides their furs, various in kind and often of great value -- beaver, otter, marten, mink, silver-gray and red fox, wolf, bear, and wild cat, musk-rat, and smoked deer-skins -- the Indians brought for trade maple-sugar in abundance, considerable quantities of both Indian corn and petit-blé, * beans and the folles avoines, † for wild-rice, while the squaws added to their quota of merchandize a contribution in the form of moccasins, hunting-pouches, mococks, or little boxes of birch-bark embroidered with porcupine quills and filled with maple-sugar, mats of a neat and durable fabric, and toy-models of Indian cradles, snow shoes, canoes, &c.,&c.
It was no unusual thing, at this period, to see a hundred or more canoes of Indians at once approaching the island, laden with their articles of traffic; and if to these we add the squadrons of large Mackinac boats constantly arriving from the outposts, with the furs, peltries, and buffalo-robes collected by the distant traders, some idea may be formed of the extensive operations and important position of the American Fur Company, as well as of the vast circle of human beings either immediately or remotely connected with it.
It is no wonder that the philanthropic mind, surveying these races of uncultivated heathen, should stretch forward to the time when, by an unwearied devotion of the white man's energies, and an untiring sacrifice of self and fortune, his red brethren might rise in the scale of social civilization -- when Education and Christianity should go hand in hand, to make "the wilderness blossom as the rose."
Little did the noble souls at this day rejoicing in the success of their labors at Mackinac, anticipate that in less than a quarter of a century there would remain of all these numerous tribes but a few scattered bands, squalid, degraded, with scarce a vestige remaining of their former lofty character -- their lands cajoled or wrested from them -- the graves of their fathers turned up by the ploughshare -- themselves chased farther and farther towards the setting sun, until they were literally grudged a resting place on the face of the earth!
Our visit to the Mission school was of short duration, for the "Henry Clay" was to leave at two o'clock, and in the meantime we were to see what we could of the village and its environs, and after that, dine with Mr. Mitchell, an old friend of my husband. As we walked leisurely along over the white gravelly road, many of the residences of the old inhabitants were pointed out to me. There was the dwelling of Madame Laframboise, an Ottawa woman, whose husband had taught her to read and write, and who had ever after continued to use the knowledge she had acquired for the instruction and improvement of the youth among her own people. It was her custom to receive a class of young pupils daily at her house, that she might give them lessons in the branches mentioned, and also in the principles of the Roman Catholic religion, to which she was deeply devoted. She was a woman of a vast deal of energy and enterprise -- of a tall and commanding figure, and most dignified deportment. After the death of her husband, who was killed while away at his trading-post by a Winnebago named White Ox, she was accustomed to visit herself the trading-posts, superintend the clerks and engagés, and satisfy herself that the business was carried on in a regular and profitable manner.
The Agency-house, with its unusual luxuries of piazza and gardens, was situated at the foot of the hill on which the fort was built. It was a lovely spot, notwithstanding the stunted and dwarfish appearance of all cultivated vegetation in this cold northern latitude. The collection of rickety, primitive-looking buildings, occupied by the officials of the Fur Company, reflected no great credit on the architectural skill of my husband, who had superintended their construction, he told me, when little more than a boy. There were, besides these, the residences of the Dousmans, the Abbotts, the Biddles, the Drews, and the Lashleys, stretching away along the base of the beautiful hill, crowned with the white walls and buildings of the fort, the ascent to which was so steep, that on the precipitous face nearest the beach staircases were built by which to mount from below.
My head ached intensely, the effect of the motion of the boat on the previous day, but I did not like to give up to it; so after I had been shown all that could be seen of the little settlement in the short time allowed us, we repaired to Mr. Mitchell's.
We were received by Mrs. M., an extremely pretty, delicate woman, part French and part Sioux, whose early life had been passed at Prairie du Chien, on the Mississippi. She had been a great belle among the young officers at Fort Crawford; so much so, indeed, that the suicide of the post-surgeon was attributed to an unsuccessful attachment he had conceived for her.
I was greatly struck with her soft and gentle manners, and the musical intonation of her voice, which I soon learned was a distinguishing peculiarity of those women in whom are united the French and native blood.
A lady, then upon a visit to the Mission, was of the company. She insisted on my lying down upon the sofa, and ministered most kindly to my suffering head. As she sat by my side, and expatiated upon the new sphere opening before me, she inquired:
"Do you not realise very strongly the entire deprivation of religious privileges you will be obliged to suffer in your distant home?"
"The deprivation," said I, "will doubtless be great, but not entire; for I shall have my Prayer-Book, and though destitute of a church, we need not be without a mode of worship."
How often afterwards, when cheered by the consolations of this precious book in the midst of the lonely wilderness, did I remember this conversation, and bless God that I could never, while retaining it, be without "religious privileges."
We had not yet left the dinner-table, when the bell of the little steamer sounded to summon us on board, and we bade a hurried farewell to all our kind friends, bearing with us their hearty wishes for a safe and prosperous voyage.
A finer sight can scarcely be imagined than Mackinac, from the water. As we steamed away from the shore, the view came full upon us -- the sloping beach with the scattered wigwams, and canoes drawn up here and there -- the irregular, quaint-looking houses -- the white walls of the fort, and beyond one eminence still more lofty, crowned with the remains of old Fort Holmes. The whole picture completed, showed the perfect outline that had given the island its original Indian name, Mich-i-li-mack-i-nack, the Big Turtle.
Then those pure, living waters, in whose depths the fish might be seen gliding and darting to and fro, whose clearness is such that an object dropped to the bottom may be discerned at the depth of fifty or sixty feet, a dollar lying far down on its green bed, looking no larger than a half dime. I could hardly wonder at the enthusiastic lady who exclaimed: "Oh! I could wish to be drowned in these pure, beautiful waters!"
As we passed the extreme western point of the island, my husband pointed out to me, far away to the north-west, a promontory which he told me was Point St. Ignace. It possessed great historic interest, as one of the earliest white settlements on this continent. The Jesuit missionaries had established here a church and school as early as 1607, the same year in which a white settlement was made at St. Augustine, in Florida, and one year before the founding of Jamestown, Virginia.
All that remains of the enterprises of these devoted men, is the remembrance of their labors, perpetuated, in most instances, only by the names of the spots which witnessed their efforts of love in behalf of their savage brethren. The little French church at Sandwich, opposite Detroit, alone is left, a witness of the zeal and self-sacrifice of these pioneers of Christianity.
Passing "Old Mackinac," on the main land, which forms the southern border of the straits, we soon came out into the broad waters of Lake Michigan. Every traveller, and every reader of our history, is familiar with the incidents connected with the taking of the old fort by the Indians, in the days of Pontiac. How, by means of a game of ball, played in an apparently friendly spirit outside the walls, and of which the officers and soldiers had come forth to be Spectators, the ball was dexterously tossed over the wall, and the savages rushing in, under pretext of finding it, soon got possession and massacred the garrison.
The little Indian village of L'Arbre Croche gleamed far away south, in the light of the setting sun. With that exception, there was no sign of living habitation along that vast and wooded shore. The gigantic forest-trees, and here and there the little glades of prairie opening to the water, showed a landscape that would have gladdened the eye of the agriculturist, with its promise of fertility; but it was evidently untrodden by the foot of man, and we left it, in its solitude, as we took our course westward across the waters.
The rainy and gusty weather, so incident to the equinoctial season, overtook us again before we reached the mouth of Green Bay, and kept us company until the night of our arrival upon the flats, about three miles below the settlement. Here the little steamer grounded "fast and hard." As almost every one preferred braving the elements to remaining cooped up in the quarters we had occupied for the past week, we decided to trust ourselves to the little boat, spite of wind, and rain, and darkness, and in due time we reached the shore.
* Corn which has been parboiled, shelled from the cob, and dried in the sun.
† Literally, crazy oats. It is the French name for the Menomonees.
Mrs. John H. Kenzie, Wau-Bun, the "Early Day" in the Northwest. Chicago : D. B. Cooke & Co., 1857. p. 18-28.
From the Memorial Library Department of Special Collections, University of Wisconsin-Madison.